I always wanted to see a sunset over the Ganges, I just didn’t think it would be today.
Actually, I didn’t see it. I only heard about it from George Clooney as Matt Kowalski in the film Gravity. He had a unique perspective when he saw it. You know, jet-packing around in space. He along with Sandra Bullock who plays Ryan Stone, are out making some repairs to their space shuttle.
They are linked to earth via radio transmissions. From Earth, we hear what Ed Harris as Mission Control in Houston is telling both Stone and Kowalski. Until they lose the radio connection. Which occurs after they and their craft were severely impacted by debris from a blown up satellite hurling towards them at unimaginable speeds.
You see as we are told, In space there is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.
Which meant, in regard to the debris hurtling at them – there is nothing at all to slow it down. After the debris has shredded them, both literally and figuratively, Kowalski and Stone have become un-tethered to each other, and separated from the shuttle.
Kowalski’s jet pack is running low on propulsion, and Stone is running low on oxygen. Will they reconnect and even if they do – what next?
That’s your setup. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, from a script that Cuarón and his son Jonas wrote together, this is a monster of a film that lacks oxygen, gravity, and space aliens yet is as thrilling as can be.
Yes, the overall story is about the will to survive and get home, which is anything but new, but for we viewers, this is a remarkable cinematic experience. I can’t even begin to imagine how labor intensive this must have been to produce a film of this scope with live actors, special FX, CGI, and built for a 3D IMAX screen.
Truly this is a stunning visual experience. The film also has an involving musical score which adds to the experience. Cuaron has also pulled a few rabbits out his director’s hat in the form of long takes – in fact the opening take runs for about 17 minutes without an editorial cut.
When you factor in the disorientation we feel – as I said – there’s no up or down, horizontal or vertical. Our view perspective remains in place as this activity is happening in front of us, but for the onscreen actors, all of those terms have no meaning.
Wait for the spectacular shot which begins with some one who is not quite in free fall – don’t forget, without gravity, falling doesn’t occur – but rather this person is just spinning over and over. The shot begins with us watching this person and ends with we getting the same POV as the person, as if we are inside the space suit looking out.
Cuarón pays homage to Sigourney Weaver by having Bullock do her own version of stripping down to basics. There’s no hyper-sleep in this film – but thanks must go to Weaver/Ripley all the same.
If you can recall Stanley Kubrick‘s classic 2001 A Space Odyssey, then you will remember Gary Lockwood as Frank Poole getting in his running while in a zero gravity situation. We watched without really understanding how what we were seeing was possible. Simply Lockwood was running in what could be described as a giant hamster wheel. Only we were seeing this from a position behind or in front of him (see the image), and from that perspective, it was amazing.
But to achieve it, this is what had to be built.
Now change gears and think of this – we are in space, outside the Explorer shuttle. Every thing is motion: the shuttle, Clooney’s Kowalski, Bullock’s Stone, cables, tethers, and so forth AND THE CAMERA moves as well with our POV constantly changing as well as our relationship to where the earth is too. With Clooney jet-packing around, he’s almost giddy.
He comes toward you, he weaves in and out of the external hardware of the shuttle. He will go beneath a wing, or a solar panel, and then come up from below the bottom of the screen in front of you, and everything else is all moving at the same time and it is totally seamless.
You’ll need to watch the film to appreciate this. But it was a hell of a mind-blowing shot.
I’ll strongly recommend the film. This is not science fiction, rather it is something rather close to factual. This is not say, that Cuaron has not taken some liberties with such things as physics and propulsion, and even added in some creative dramatic stuff that doesn’t always work – but as you watch – you’ll be more like amazed than doubtful. But no matter how great the visuals are, you still need to believe in and care about the characters.
Which is why we have Hollywood A-Listers like Clooney and Bullock involved. I am so glad the producers had the foresight to do this, and to get George and Sandra to sign on for a story which is not dialogue rich, nor does it have oodles of character development.
I’m not going to show you the trailer, nor over fill this review with a plethora of images. I don’t believe you’ll need too many of those things nor do I believe that the film needs to overwhelm you BEFORE you see it. I’m going to give this film the highest possible rating for its technical supremacy, and deduct only a quarter of a point for the less than unique plot, and the few times the script struggled to make Ms Bullock more heroic than necessary because of some of her character Stone’s personal history. Four point seven five is my rating and I’m calling it a must see film, a nearly but not quite perfect film.